First Internet message anniversary

The article linked above caused me to reflect on my memorable first Internet experience. It is growing increasingly harder to convey the eeriness of the feelings I had upon my first contact with the Internet. In today’s connected world it is hard to remember the earlier “disconnected world.” In 1978 I was a junior in high school on Long Island and got my first introduction to computers in a brand-new class called BASIC programming. (Well, I had completed a course in keypunch operation, so maybe that was my first computer experience.) The BASIC course was taught on two teletype machines in a small classroom. No monitors. Before connecting, we had to rotary-dial a telephone, listen for the squeal, and seat the phone in an acoustic coupler. When connected, the teletype would ask us to login. As part of the course we had to choose a username and setup an account. I chose my old CB radio handle, “LuckyM”. A few years passed and I found myself in a basement closet in my new dormitory at MIT, where an upperclassman was going to help me get connected to the computer system. This time there was a blurry green screen, and it was asking if we wanted to setup an account. Yes, we typed, and the next prompt was “Enter desired username:”. I thought a minute and my old LuckyM moniker was typed in by the helpful classmate. The computer responded with a question that froze us both: “Are you Michael Burns?” Sounds so innocuous now, but very idea that somewhere in the bowels of MIT there was a computer that knew that LuckyM was Mike Burns was unsettling. Well at least disquieting. It took a long time for me to figure out that the connection was made through my high school computer lab. Later I learned that the high school lab was dialing to nearby Brookhaven National Laboratories to share computer time, and Brookhaven was, like MIT, connected to the ARPANET at this time. The memory of that encounter with the connected world is still fresh, even though it occured in September of 1980.